The last 72 hours proved to not only be contentious, but necessary as the Suns made the line-up changes that were needed and responded as well could be asked of a team in this situation.
Forty-eight minutes is just that, forty-eight minutes, but the impressive fact is that the Phoenix Suns didn't boot the first twelve of each half like they have been doing consistently this season. Part of that had to do with playing at home, getting two good days of practice in, and even more so the way the line-up shake-up took form.
It is pretty simple when you look at the numbers on the season.
|1st Quarter Points||3rd Quarter Points|
|Suns (first 11 games)||24.7||22.3|
|Opponents (first 11 games)||28.6||26.3|
The Suns were a net -7.9 in the quarters that the starters are responsible for creating the energy and setting the tone. This is a one game sample against an average team, but one that is heavily reliant on their starters. In the end that was the difference, the tone was set and the Portland Trail Blazers never could match it.
Balancing out the offense was key in creating better spacing on the floor.
Goran Dragic was able to float around setting up his teammates starting off with Marcin Gortat. In the first four minutes of the game there was a concerted effort made to get Gortat the ball down low. He backed up his words from earlier in the week as he converted two quality post moves, one off of the block and the other off of screen and roll.
With Gortat (22 points 7 rebounds) setting the tone down low he opened up the perimeter game for Markieff Morris (19 points 7 rebounds) and Shannon Brown (10 points) as they were hot early knocking down jumpers left and right.
The offense clicked out of the gates, both the first and the third, scoring well inside and out as a team. There was more balance on the court and the spacing issues that have plagued the team early in the season. More importantly the bench did fall apart because of the changes.
Evidence that the offense clicked was in the PPP (points per possession) where the team scored 1.26 PPP against the Blazers, but averaged 1.03 on the season through 11 games. They took care of the ball and had less possessions than they are generally used to. That is a testament to the offensive fluidity, spacing, and the units meshing for only the second time all season.
Head Coach Alvin Gentry has been preaching spacing at practice, before games, and after games all season coming off as a broken record. The play inside helped that.
Jermaine O'Neal is not necessarily going to have these types of performances (17 points 5 rebounds) on a nightly basis as he is a 16 year veteran of this league and coming off of surgery. When they do get these types of performances from Gortat and O'Neal it will be tough to beat this team.
The Blazers are not the best litmus test for whether or not the changes are going to set positive trends going forward and be the salvation for the season. They have no bench and are not the most experienced bunch on the court sending out a rookie to contend with the Suns veterans. Gaining the confidence with a win is important, gaining momentum against a bigger, tougher New Orleans Hornets team will be an even better test of the line-up changes before the team hits the road for six straight road games.
There is tape on this line-up now and it will not be a surprise for opponents going forward unless they are able to continue playing at this high of a level.
Sustainability is what the team needs. Sustained offense, sustained defensive effort, and most importantly sustained energy. When they get everyone engaged on both ends of the floor like last night this is a different team with potential.